Harper Lee’s friends discuss author, “Go Set a Watchman”

14 Jul 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

‘When Harper Lee said no, she meant it’: Oprah Winfrey reveals Mockingbird author turned down chat show invite… over lunch that took TWO YEARS to arrange.

But the 61-year-old media mogul has revealed that she was unable to persuade her literary idol, Harper Lee – whose hotly-anticipated second novel, Go Set A Watchman, was released at midnight – to appear on her eponymous chat show.MONROEVILLE, Ala. (AP) – Judy May and her sister Julia Stroud drove back to their hometown of Monroeville, Alabama, and snatched up the first two copies as Harper Lee’s new novel “Go Set a Watchman” as the book went on sale at midnight. At a lunch date with Lee at the luxury Four Seasons in New York during the Nineties, the author apparently compared herself to the introverted, reclusive character of Boo Radley – therefore, appearing on TV would be a complete no-no.

The notoriously private author apparently already struggled with the personal attention her original 1960 bestseller had attracted and didn’t wish for any more fame. In an excerpt from Scout, Atticus & Boo: A Celebration of To Kill A Mockingbird by Mary McDonagh Murphy, Winfrey remembers respecting Lee’s decision to stay away from the cameras. But at the same time, there was trepidation, and disbelief, that Atticus Finch, the courtly model of integrity who in the 1930s defended a wrongly accused black man in “Mockingbird,” is portrayed as a racist 20 years later in “Watchman.” “I’m nervous. Already we have those buses coming down to my house, and they pull up to the door still looking for Boo Radley, and I just don’t want that to happen any more than it already does.

He’s the epitome of the moral compass,” said Cher Caldwell, a 43-year-old English teacher from Kentucky. “Atticus has been a hero-type person through our lives here in Monroe County and the whole world actually. In the course of a few pages you find out that her brother is dead, her father is ageing and suffering from arthritis and that there is romance in her life, or the promise of it.

Based on the first chapter of Watchman and what’s been revealed of the plot, Mockingbird narrator Scout’s heroic father Atticus Finch – based on Nelle’s dad, Amasa Coleman Lee – was in fact a bigot of sorts. We didn’t know that for 55 years because a smart editor in the late 1950s realised Watchman was an immature book that would shock conservative America, thereby undermining Nelle’s anti-racist message. Jan Anderson, 48, said she wants to see what became of the characters that she fell in love when she read “Mockingbird” in high school, saying she always imagined that the opinioned Scout Finch became a lawyer or some sort of crusader for justice.

The editor told Nelle to rewrite Watchman by focusing on the good things about Atticus – drawing on Scout’s and presumably Nelle’s fondest childood memories of her father Amasa. HarperCollins announced the news of the second Lee novel in February, something her fans had given up on and Lee had previously said wouldn’t happen, and has seen record-high pre-orders – the highest since the last Harry Potter book that came out in 2007. The book shop, located near the courthouse square in Monroeville, ordered more than 10,000 copies of “Watchman” in a town with a population of less than 6,300. “I think a lot of people are really wanting to wait and read the whole book for themselves,” bookstore owner Spencer Madrie said. Questions were raised over the quality of the book – and indeed over whether Lee was capable of making decisions about publishing the novels, leading to Alabama officials to visit her in her care home.

In an interview earlier this year, Nobel laureate Toni Morrison called it a ‘white savior’ narrative, ‘one of those’ that reduced black people to onlookers in their own struggle for equal rights. Oprah, who once described Mockingbird as ‘our national novel,’ says she has no future plans to interview Lee and is glad the writer has managed to retain some sense of anonymity. Its shops also turned orange today, the colour of the book’s cover, while Britain’s largest independent chain Foyles had a ‘Southern-themed’ midnight opening at its flagship London store on Charing Cross Road.

Atticus’s reasons for thinking the way he thinks are fascinating and in some ways give us a better of picture of life at the time then the more idealised version in the first book can. Maybe Atticus was heroic not because he disliked racism but because he loved the rule of law and would have defended with zeal any individual so wrongly accused. The world of literature owes that editor a huge debt, because it was that guidance that helped shape one of the most memorable works of literature in the English language. Given the lack of material Harper Lee has published, it’s probably for this best that this was released, as long as the reader is clear on what to expect.

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